The DEEP / Savage Radio Plays
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
June 10, 2011
Savage Radio Plays is an ambitious show. It is a veritable fountain of creativity, inventiveness, and talent. The performance is indeed an impressive feat to watch with all the action coming from the puppeteers, foley artists, and voice talents but I found that I lost much of the story because I got so caught up in the execution of it.
What I know is that Commander Zip Pulsar and his ragtag crew are called upon to save the galaxy from the clutches of an evil time-traveling alien and the cackling witch that loves him. The story is taken from some old 1920s sci-fi pulp fiction novels that were subsequently turned into a series of radio dramas. The story and the characters are cheesy by our contemporary standards and the dialogue and narration are in turn a bit clunky. I actually enjoyed the cheesiness of it all but the text could certainly use some snappiness to go with that.
That said, the talent and creativity on display here is truly incredible. The puppets, designed by director Daniel Patrick Fay, are splendidly crafted with lots of detail and good maneuverability. There are several puppet designs employed here such as shadow puppets made out of clear mylar that is painted on. There are also some rod puppets and doll puppets and they are all expertly manipulated by puppeteers Alexandra Clayton, Maggie Dilley, Emily Leshner, Melanie Paterson, and Marina Tsaplina. For the puppets, Fay has a tall scrim set up at stage right that is divided into panels, mimicking comic book panels, and he has three overhead projectors behind it so he can have a scene set on the overhead while playing with the shadow puppets against the scrim. This also allows him to expose one or two panels at a time revealing each scene as the story moves forward. It’s really brilliant and cool to watch.
Turn to stage left and there you find the radio players performing. Adam Elsberry and Kiki Valentine voice all of the characters—sometimes talking to themselves in different voices. They are both amazing vocal actors, giving unique qualities to each character using accents and inflections with ease. Fay delivers the narration between dialogue while at the same time working with composer and co-creator Andrew Livingston on the foley. They use all sorts of contraptions and objects to make the various sound effects such as a slinky attached to a coffee can to make the laser gun sound. Meanwhile Livingston provides a warm underscore for the show on his cello.
Savage Radio Plays is an entertaining show that is filled with amazing talent. It is relatively short, about half an hour, so it is paired with another short performance titled The Deep.
Based on a lusty 1970s French adventure comic, The Deep is a physical theater piece conceived and performed by Adrian Jevicki and Run Shayo. It is supposed to take place in a secret underwater cave in the middle of the Amazon but I didn’t get that at all. It opens with a bit of narration that sets the scene to be about an American boy in France who is pleased to have come across a hard-cover comic book that has naked girls in it. From that jumping off point we have a boy with a balloon sneaking across the stage in large, exaggerated steps who finds a man with a female blow-up doll. At first he watches the man and his doll as he dances, in grandiose club-style dancing, with it and by himself. Then the boy has a chance to play with the doll. They play with it together in all sorts of ways that you assume will degrade into something lewd but they never really go there. (Well, maybe a little.) Mostly, they bat the doll around, dance with her, spin her by her ankles, and even use her as a vacuum cleaner. Eventually they stop and the boy takes on the role of the girl and speaks for her in an odd and hilarious final sequence.
The Deep is a simple concept that takes a joke as far as it can go without becoming too silly or overplayed. Jevicki and Shayo are quirky and uninhibited. Their choreography is strange and campy and they have a magnetic chemistry on stage in that they sometimes attract and sometimes repel each other. They also exert excellent control over their bodies, creating a sort of goofy fluidity in every movement. There are few words, with the exception of the narration at the beginning and the dialogue at the end, and I think that few are needed. They tell a funny and entertaining story using just their bodies and a handful of objects.
The Deep is physical theater with clear influences of clowning. I really enjoyed this show. Taken together these two performances make for a fun and certainly unique night at the theater. If that’s your bag then hop on the L train and make the quick trip out to Williamsburg for The Brick’s Comic Book Theater Festival.